On Parenting and an Imperfect Quilt

On Parenting and an Imperfect Quilt

My first quilt was made with pieced fabric strips and squares from vintage linen napkins. Once a week I dropped my three kids at the sitters and worked for a few glorious hours in the corner of my dining room. Some days they would all nap at the same time and I’d unfold the desk in my sewing cabinet and get to work.

I didn’t know anything about quiltmaking--only that I loved fabric and wanted to wrap my children in an embodiment of my love. This quilt would be the perfect twin sized covering for my son’s vintage metal bed. I mapped out all the measurements carefully, but when I put it together the pieces never seemed to line up. I’d heave a sigh of frustration and hastily stitch on another piece or two. Imperfect quilts and imperfect love are the only kind I have to offer.

I finished hand quilting while sitting in the backyard, listening to early spring birds and basking in the sun. The stitching lines were drawn with children’s craft chalk: orange, blue, and bright pink. When I pulled it out of the washing machine for the first time, those lines held fast on large patches of white fabric. Craft chalk is not the same as tailor’s chalk! The stain finally faded after a few aggressive washes.

Like the quilt, my parenting was not going according to plan. The quirks of an imperfectly sewn textile make it human. Was the humanness of my parenting beautiful? The hurt on my child’s face when I overreacted was much worse than seams that didn’t line up. But the days filled with my blunders were also the days I learned to surrender; letting go of the idea that I could somehow try hard enough to do everything right. Wonky stitches and uneven patches brought visual interest into my quilt--they told a story. My short-comings as a parent led to soul-stretching moments of vulnerability and warm apology hugs. Mothering is still more complicated than a quilt, but they’re both messy and flawed offerings of my heart.

Once the quilt was finished I wrapped it in paper and string for my son’s fifth birthday. We celebrated in the midst of a pandemic while packing for a sudden move. The comforter traveled with us as we moved six times in two years: a thread of comfort in a world of chaos.

Just yesterday, my son cloaked himself in this handmade blanket to warm himself in the cold Montana spring. In two years of life it has warmed beds and cozy winter movie nights. As it soothed our hearts and insulated our toes, it developed its own soul. After several washes the texture is puffed and crinkled. The colors faded, and some threads popped loose. It’s not an art object, and it would never win a ribbon, but it does what it was made to do: wrap us all in love.

This essay was originally published in Hands All Around: A Quilting Miscellany Issue 2. Beautiful, Useful Things by Frances O. Dowell. You can find the whole zine, with all of its lovely articles, here.

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